Score one for VP Kamala Harris

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Vice President Kamala Harris just made legislative history. In her constitutional role as President of a divided U.S. Senate, Harris voted twice yesterday to break a tie, bringing her tally up to 33. The prior record was held nearly 200 years ago by John C. Calhoun, who reached 31 after eight years in office. Although this news is positive, it’s also a sobering reminder of the times and a warning about next year’s election.

Calling it a “great milestone,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that Harris has broken the tie on “some of the most transformative bills in modern history.” Most of the votes, including yesterday’s, have been to advance President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, which have added competence as well as unparalleled diversity to the federal court system. Harris has also helped enable landmark legislation such as the American Rescue Plan, which offered $1.9 trillion in relief during the pandemic, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which curbed prescription drug costs while establishing financial incentives for clean energy.

While Harris’ tie-breaking vote has accomplished much good over the past couple of years, the mechanism is not ideal. Most Vice Presidents have broken far fewer ties; 12 of them, including Biden, ironically, have never been in a position to exercise this authority. Indeed, the fact that Harris has broken ties so often means that Democratic control of the Senate has been precarious. Given the anti-democratic, obstructionist nature of today’s Republican Party, this means that maintaining and strengthening the Democratic majority in the 2024 elections is critical.

Accepting a golden gavel from Schumer to mark the milestone, Harris reflected on what her votes have meant, including a historic investment in addressing the climate crisis, capping insulin at $35 a month for seniors, supporting small businesses, and confirming the 161st judge to the federal bench. Expanding on that last point, Schumer pointed out that “we have moved the bench forward to look more like America.”

Although passing consequential legislation through tie-breaking votes has proven to be fruitful, it is risky business. Fortunately, voters will have the opportunity to change the makeup of Congress next November, paving the way to further progress and more efficient handling of our nation’s many challenges. The future lies in our hands.

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